A ways back, I shared my thoughts on the then-new smartphone app HotelTonight, which allowed users to make quick, same-day bookings at properties in whatever city they were presently located. I argued that even though this app pandered to the OTA crowd, it was not a proponent for guestroom commoditization. Whatever your stance on the issue, what’s most important is for you to recognize that these apps are coming, and sooner or later, there will be one that will be adopted by a widespread user base.
YPlan is another entrant in this space for you to consider. It works very similarly to HotelTonight except that it deals in events instead of rooms. Why plan for tonight when you have an app like YPlan that tells you everything that’s going on in your city so you can choose the events you want on the go? Currently the app is only operational in London and New York City, but rapid expansion is almost an inevitability once you throw a little venture capital on the fire.
But why care about YPlan? Sure, HotelTonight has a direct impact on the hospitality industry, but YPlan’s is a tad more peripheral. After all, most of the featured events are musicals, dances, concerts and all manner of functions most likely not to transpire at a hotel.
Take a closer look, though, and you might see the impact on us is direct. The Millennials are the fastest-growing demographic, and they are also the most likely group to use such an app. A decade earlier, young guests eager to check out the town might approach the front desk or concierge and ask, “Where’s good tonight? Any events worth checking out?”
Now it appears their smartphones perform this task for us while we lose a chance to demonstrate our guest service value. Hotels need every possible opportunity to augment a guest’s onsite experience if they are to make a good impression and ultimately garner positive word of mouth and return visits. Along with popular restaurant and tourism apps like Yelp, Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor, YPlan is yet another antagonist to the concierge’s value-add.
But what YPlan cannot yet replicate is the expert, inside proficiency of a local, and this is where your front-desk clerks and concierge team must shine if they wish to outdo such emergent apps. Think of it as an arms race. The more plentiful and versatile these apps become, the more knowledgeable, tech-savvy, personable and fast your concierge staff must be. And it’s this last characteristic I want to elaborate on — speed.
As of now, YPlan only lets its users personalize their list of prospective events based on nine criteria: comedy, culture, film, F&B, music, nightlife, performance, sports and theatre. Definitely robust enough to find satisfactory entertainment, but even after you refine your query from these categories, it’s still only a launch pad for further research. For example, searching for only “nightlife” may filter out many unwanted entertainment options, but it still leaves much to be desired.
Where the concierge of the future will be valuable is in saving guests time that would otherwise be spent navigating dozens of websites. Your concierge or front-desk team might even consider using YPlan as their launch pad for more in-depth research so they are better prepared to quickly handle guest requests. Moreover, an affable concierge can give the personal guarantee of a well-traversed local — something the Internet does to a degree, but there are so many disparate options on these travel websites that they may bewilder a visitor rather than reassure.
Lastly, as Millennials will soon be the dominant force in hospitality bookings, you simply must have frontline staffers who understand this generation’s quirks. Retraining on this topic is a necessity. YPlan is but one more contestant in this service evolution — not the first and definitely not the last — so the best way to prevent your team from becoming obsolete is to continually stay one step ahead.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on February 21, 2014)